For its biennial Worldwide Convention, the fast-food giant goes all out — and gives back as much as it can.
When you walk into the McDonald’s Worldwide Con- an around-the-world journey that encompasses everything the fast-food chain has to offer. Attendees can sample a 1955 Burger from Germany a S’more Pie from Canada, or a Cad-bury Caramel Shake from the U.K. Fully functioning kitchens are constructed in the exhibit hall at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) - where the exhibition is held every other April - so all the food is freshly prepared.
Since 2002, the biennial convention has welcomed more than 16,000 attendees to the OCCC, including McDonald’s franchise owners and global exhibitors. “When you only bring this group together in the world every two years, it’s important to them,” said Kelley Butler, McDonald’s director of meetings and events. “It’s a chance for them to hear from our leadership team, and understand the strategy and direction of the company. The floor is always designed as a journey that supports the strategy.”
A major component of that strategy is sustainability. “It plays a big part in everything we do as a brand,” Butler said. Last year, McDonald’s for the first time worked with the OCCC and other dedicated partners to implement composting at its Worldwide Convention, “because we actually cook our food on the [show] floor, in addition to catered food.” The company ended up composting more than 84,000 pounds of organic waste. After the show, McDonald’s worked with Jeff Chase, vice president of sustainability for Freeman, the show’s general contractor, to donate 67,000 pounds of goods to 12 local charities, including the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Habitat for Humanity, and an area women’s shelter. The composting and donation of the building materials contributed to a 71-percent waste diversion.
To ensure that all 200-plus exhibitors are doing their best to be green, McDonald’s awards green-logo designations to companies that are promoting a sustainable product or practice in their booth that can be used in the franchise owners’ restaurants. “That’s one thing that’s always fun about this,” Butler said. “We are a competitive brand in nature, so we love to come up with creative ideas. It’s almost like a competition in how you can outdo or hit your message right on and do it in a fun and entertaining way.”
The strategy is working. “By implementing composting in the 10 McDonald’s kitchens we built [at the trade show],” said Julie Larson, a project manager at McDonald’s, “we learned how to maximize the process.” These same lessons were then applied at McDonald’s restaurants in Atlanta and Austin, to improve composting processes and decrease the waste stream.
Last year was also the first year the McDonald’s Worldwide Convention featured a mobile app — welcomed with a 92-percent adoption rate — making the exhibit almost completely paperless. That was a challenge at first, with a multigenerational event; many attendees still liked hard-copy maps to navigate the show. “Moving forward for 2014, we will go completely paperless,” Butler said. “All of those supporting documents that people use or pick up as collateral within the booth could all be pulled into our mobile app.”
McDonald’s also works with Clean The World, a nonprofit that repurposes soap products for the homeless, diverting more than 15,000 pounds of landfill waste over its past three conventions, and donating more than 150,000 bars of soap to families in need all over the world. “Our motto every time we come into a city,” Butler said, “is to leave it that much better when we leave.”